Comaroffs: ‘Theory from the South

A recent journal article from the Comaroffs rallies the cause for a southern perspective. But it leaves much work to be done in developing the critical tools that might achieve this.

‘The Global South’ has become a shorthand for the world of non-European, postcolonial peoples. Synonymous with uncertain development, unorthodox economies, failed states, and nations fraught with corruption, poverty, and strife, it is that half of the world about which the ‘Global North’ spins theories. Rarely is it seen as a source of theory and explanation for world historical events. Yet, as many nation-states of the Northern Hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, and ethnic conflict, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways. Is this so? In what measure? What might this mean for the very dualism on which such global oppositions rest? Drawing on recent research, primarily in Africa, this paper touches on a range of familiar themes—law, labor, and the contours of contemporary capitalism—in order to ask how we might understand these things with theory developed from an ‘ex-centric’ vantage. This view renders some key problems of our time at once strange and familiar, giving an ironic twist to the evolutionary pathways long assumed by social scientists.

Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff ‘Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa’ Anthropological Forum Vol. 22, No. 2, July 2012, 113–131

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